“A reader asks: Scientists seem to be calling members of a 3-foot-tall species whose fossils were recently found in Indonesia ‘hobbits’ conversationally. When did this term come into existence? Before or after Tolkien? And how might the real hobbits have been similar to or different from the ones Tolkien created?Carl Zimmer, who writes the Matter column for The Times’s Science section, considers the question. The term came into scientific parlance very much after Tolkien.” C. Zimmer, The New York Times
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Are Hobbits Real? By Carl Zimmer, NYT
“In 2003, the archaeologist Michael Morwood and his colleagues discovered a skull and other bones of an ancient human relative — otherwise known as a hominin — in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores. The Flores hominins were very small, standing about 3 feet tall, and had very small brains. And yet Dr. Morwood and his colleagues also found stone tools alongside the fossils, suggesting that they still had substantial mental firepower…The hobbits of Flores and the hobbits of Middle Earth had only a few things in common. Tolkien wrote that his hobbits were related to men, while Homo floresiensis probably shared a common ancestor with us that lived about 1.8 million years ago. And they were both short. Beyond that, the two hobbits part ways.
Tolkien portrayed Frodo and his comrades as diminutive people who lived in a kind of preindustrial paradise, like the village where Tolkien himself grew up in the late 1800s. A well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favorite haunt, he wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring. The hobbits of Flores show no signs of agriculture. The fossil record indicates that their ancestors arrived with stone tools on Flores about a million years ago.
Judging from charcoal and cracked bones researchers have found, it looks as if Homo floresiensis used stone tools to hunt dwarf elephants, and then cooked their meat over fires in caves.
Hobbits are an unobtrusive but very ancient people, more numerous formerly than they are today, Tolkien wrote. It is fun to imagine a few Homo floresiensis still surviving today in the remote jungles of an Indonesian island. Sadly, that’s probably just as fantastic as anything in Tolkien’s novels.”
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- In 2003, archaeologists discovered a skull and other bones.
- His colleagues also found stone tools alongside the fossils.
- The tools suggest that they still had substantial mental firepower.
- Our own species had already emerged.
- They knew very well that Homo floresiensis is a mouthful.
- They nicknamed the hominins of Flores hobbits.
- Peter Brown was one of Dr. Morwood’s collaborators.
- Homo floresiensis probably shared a common ancestor with us.
- Tolkien portrayed Frodo and his comrades as diminutive people.
- A well-farmed countryside was their favorite haunt.
Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- In 2003, the biologist Michael Morwood and his colleagues discovered a skull and other bones.
- The hobbits of Flores and the hobbits of Middle Earth had many things in common.
- Tolkien wrote that his hobbits were related to men.
- The Flores hominins were very small, standing about 3 feet tall.
- Tolkien might have actually seen a hobbit.
- They nicknamed the hominins of Flores Frodo.
- Tolkien portrayed Frodo and his comrades as big people who lived in a village.
- The hobbits of Flores show no signs of agriculture.
- Homo floresiensis used stone tools to hunt dwarf tigers.
- The hobbits of Flores probably weren’t capable of language.
Grammar: Identifying Articles
Directions: Have students choose the correct articles from those provided to fill in the blanks.
English Articles: A, An, The
___fossil record indicates that their ancestors arrived with stone tools on Flores about___million years ago.
For almost ___million years, they lived ___unchanging life, making no improvements on ___stone tools on which their lives depended.
___youngest bones of Homo floresiensis date back to about___ time when our own species arrived in Southeast Asia and Australia. Hobbits are___unobtrusive but very ancient people.
III. Post Reading Activities
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have each group list 3 questions they would like to pursue in relation to the focus of the article. Have groups exchange questions. Each group tries to answer the questions listed. All responses are shared as a class.
Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading, two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.